Henry Breasted was born in Rockford, Illinois and was an archaeologist
and historian. He was educated at North Central College (then North-Western
College) (1888), the Chicago Theological Seminary, Yale University
(MA 1891) and the University of Berlin (PhD 1894). He was the first
American citizen to obtain a PhD in Egyptology. Breasted was in
the forefront of the generation of archeologist-historians who broadened
the idea of "Western Civilization" to include the entire
"Near East" in Europe's cultural roots.
became an instructor at the University of Chicago in 1894 and
was appointed Professor of Egyptology and Oriental History at
in 1905 (the first such chair in the United States). In 1901,
he was appointed director of the Haskell Oriental Museum, forerunner
of the Oriental Institute, which had opened at the University
of Chicago in 1896.
the Haskell Oriental Museum contained works of art from both the
Near East and the Far East, his principal interest was in Egypt;
he began to work on a compilation of all the extant hieroglyphic
inscriptions, which was published in 1907 as Ancient Records of
Egypt, which remains an important collection of translated texts;
as Peter A. Piccione wrote in the preface to its 2001 reprint,
it "still contains certain texts and inscriptions that have
not been retranslated since that time."
1919, funding was obtained from John D. Rockefeller for the Oriental
Institute of Chicago, under whose auspices Breasted headed the
University’s first archaeological survey of Egypt. In 1923
he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He
died in 1935 from pneumonia, while returning from a trip to Egypt.
He is buried in Greenwood cemetery, Rockford, Illinois. His grave
site is marked with a large marble obelisk, which was a gift from
the Egyptian government.
is now perhaps most widely known for his coinage of the term "the
Fertile Crescent" to describe the area from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
most lads among my boyhood associates, I learned the Ten Commandments.
I was taught to reverence them because I was assured that they
came down from the skies into the hands of Moses, and that obedience
to them was therefore sacredly incumbent upon me. I remember that
whenever I fibbed I found consolation in the fact that there was
no commandment 'Thou shalt not lie,' and that the Decalogue forbade
lying only as a 'false witness' giving testimony before the courts
where it might damage one's neighbor. In later years when I was
much older, I began to be troubled by the fact that a code of
morals which did not forbid lying seemed imperfect; but it was
a long time before I raised the interesting question: How has
my own realization of this imperfection arisen? Where did I myself
get the moral yardstick by which I discovered this shortcoming
in the Decalogue?"
is important to bear in mind the now commonly accepted fact that
in its primitive stages, religion had nothing to do with morals
as understood by us today."
to high moral vision two thousand years before the Hebrew nation